Pictured Above: JESSICA MITCHELL, DERRICK ROSS, GARY SLAIGHT, ALI SLAIGHT, TOMI SWICK, JILL GODIN, JAMES CAMPBELL
A group of music industry types gather around a stereo, listening to a new demo by Hamilton Ontario artist Tomi Swick. Only this isn’t your ordinary A&R session and these individuals listening intently to the new track aren’t your current record company reps.
Yes at one time, Gary Slaight, Derrick Ross and Jim Campbell were insiders in Canada’s record industry. Slaight started life as a promo rep for Quality and WEA Canada before taking over the mantle of his father, Allan Slaight’s Communications network, working first as the programming director for Toronto-based influential classic rock station Q-107 before evolving into the presidency of Standard Broadcasting, the highly-influential radio network that was bought out by Astral Media in 2007 – later to be sold to Bell Media in 2011.*
Wanting still to be involved in the development of Canadian music , Slaight, a multi-award winner and philanthropist who’s many achievements include being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame in 2005and receiving the Walt Grealis Award at the 2012 Juno Awards, was looking for a vehicle to direct some of the benefits of the Standard sale when he hooked up with Derrick Ross.
Starting as the drummer for popular Burlington Ontario new wave band The Spoons in the early 1980’s, Ross progressed to form his own radio tracking company DMD which led to the formation of his own independent label Fre Records (April Wine, The Skydiggers). In 1992 he accepted the position of V.P of National Promotion for EMI Records before moving on to working as VP of Contemporary Music for the Feldman Agency before a chance meeting with Slaight sparked the fruition of what has become Slaight Music in 2011.[quote]“We want to align talent with key players and influences on the Canadian music scene.”[/quote]
“Our mission statement is to create an organization that is committed to fostering the ideal conditions for maximum creativity,” noted Ross, president of Slaight Music, taking time out from analyzing Swick’s latest demos. “We want to align talent with key players and influences on the Canadian music scene.”
Jim Campbell, who had worked in local promotion with Slaight at WEA Canada and also headed up A&R before moving over to work at BMG and later RCA New York in International Marketing, said he first became involved with Slaight Music while still operating his own Mission Control creative agency, and was eventually asked to be a more or less full time consultant with the Slaight team. Some of the artists, Campbell helped develop included Crash Test Dummies, Parachute Club, Jeff Healey Band, Cowboy Junkies and internationally, Christina Aguilera, Foo Fighters and the Dave Matthews Band.
Fourth member of the team is Ali Slaight, Gary’s daughter, who is an accomplished singer in her own right, having recorded for Universal Music. A graduate of the esteemed Berklee College, Ali now functions as the company’s talent development coordinator.
“At first Gary and Derrick were known as `Angel Investors’ but then we came up with a more appropriate term `artist incubator’,” noted Campbell. “ Slaight Music is about investing in emerging artists and established artists with a specific initiative. That is artists that are looking for help whether it’s a record budget, a video production or a tour budget.”
Understanding that major record companies for the most part, don’t have the inclination to provide A&R artist development services, but rather are looking for the finished product., Slaight Music’s personnel boast the combined talents and experience to fulfil that role.
“If you look at the depth of our combined resumes,” analyzed Campbell. ““We think we are fully qualified. Our core initiative is to develop the artists we work with to a level of partnership readiness. This could mean a major, an independent label or maybe it’s just finding the right manager, producer, band members or a crew.” People in the industry seem to have genuinely grasped what we are trying to achieve.”
Although their website encourages anyone with talent and a meaningful project to make a pitch to the company, Slaight Music has also invested in a number of their own competitive initiatives to discover new talent. They started things rolling with an online songwriting contest called “It’s Your Shot”, won first by London Ontario performer Liz Coyles’ in 2011 with her entry “Butterflies.” This was followed up by the second winner in Hamilton’s Thought Beneath Film and third winner, singer-songwriter Jill Godin from New Brunswick.
They also have a contest called Vista, staged through their New Canadian Music online magazine, co-sponsor the Polaris Music Prize for best Canadian album, providing runner’s up prizes of $2,000, sponsor the Country Music Association of Ontario Awards as well as involving themselves in a number of events and festivals such as Luminato, Canadian Music Week, the Juno Awards and Canada’s Walk Of Fame.
“It’s Your Shot provides us with the opportunity to partner with a different label each year,” explained Campbell. “This year’s It’s Your Shot partner is Universal Music which will shortly be releasing Jill Godin’s debut single.
“We’re not genre centric when it comes to investing in new artists, we currently have young developing artists in pop rock and country, he added.”
Campbell tells the story of Jessica Mitchell from London, Ontario, an `It’s Your Shot runner-up. “Post It’s Your Shot, Jessica auditioned a bunch of songs for us and they were very different from the song she originally submitted,” reflected Campbell. “Basically dated mainstream rock stuff. Yet the song she submitted for the contest was rootsy and both methodically and lyrically compelling. We asked her if she’d consider trying something more country-based and her first response was…”You’re not the first to ask me that “. So we said, “Perhaps we could be the last to ask you that and we’d also like to help you make that transition.”
“So we began setting up local co-writes with country and pop songwriters , but the brief for Jessica and her co-writers was always that we were looking for a country/roots vibe,” continued Campbell. “The results were really encouraging so the next step was a writing trip to Nashville. Five trips later, we now have a repertoire we’re all excited to begin recording. Jessica now has Nashville-based management and what we consider to be a bright future as a writer-performer. Jessica has also scored her first two covers, a co-write with Todd Clark (Phillip Phillips) on Lucy Hale’s debut album as well as another collaboration with Clark and Tim Hicks, slated to appear on Hick’s forthcoming sophomore release.”
As Slaight Music continues to develop opportunities for new artists, they also stumble across some diamonds in the rough that manage to amaze even them. A case in point is `Overwork’ an EDM artist/DJ from Ontario who won last year’s Vista prize of $10,000 via a competition presented by ‘New Canadian Music.ca’. “Overwork dropped by our office to pick-up his cheque,” recounted Campbell. “And Slaight Music President Derrick Ross asked him how he was going to spend that $10k?”
“Oh, I’m going to invest the money in my next video,” responded Overwork. “What!, All $10k!, Nobody invests $10k in a video anymore,” shot back Ross. “Well I’m actually planning on spending $80k,” continued Overwork. Would you like to see/hear the concept, I have it here on my phone. Have you guys ever seen the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey?”
“So Ross asked him if he’d sold any of his music and Overwork said he’d sold about 40k units last year, but hadn’t reported the sales to Soundscan! He’d also landed four or five commercial uses of his music to earn about $350K,” informed Campbell. “We, along with most people in the industry had never previously heard of `Overwork’ yet here he was, completely in control of his career and making it happen under the radar. “ Coming off a successful European tour, he is now targeting the U.S for the remainder of this year and going into next year.”
Slaight Music is also developing a number of `tech related’ partnerships and promotional vehicles led by Barnaby Marshall. They include partnering with Blue Ant Media (Aux) and Mediazoic as well as on-line trade magazine FYI Music News and the aforementioned New Canadian Music.ca. They’re also expanding their Toronto headquarters to include a new, fully-equipped demo studio/writing room.
“It’s still early days and Slaight Music is constantly evolving,” concluded Campbell. “Fuelled by Gary’s continuing passion for music and his original intent to inspire and support young Canadian talent via “angel investments”, we’ve become, in less than three years, a full-fledged artist development company. But it seems we are still occasionally re-inventing ourselves. We may not quite know what we are just yet. We might even become a real label ourselves one day?”